What managers need to use employee feedback effectively
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
As a manager for more than 20 years, I've received plenty of feedback about my performance in that role. Some of it was positive, but most of what I remember coming from the people I managed focused on how I needed to be better.
I remember early in my career when a woman I managed looked me in the eye and said, “You’ve been a real a-hole lately.” It was a harsh bit of feedback but she was right. I wish I could say that I immediately responded appropriately. Looking back, I’m pretty confident I didn’t—at least not right away.
Being a manager is hard. In my opinion, it’s one of the most challenging roles in any organization. While we like to pretend that the manager has control over others’ performance, control is an illusion. The job of a manager is to foster an environment where people are able to be their best. Where they will willingly make the choice to give their best every day.
The only way to succeed in this quest is to understand the day-to-day experience of your employees: what’s working and what’s not, and what they need to do their best. That means a lot of feedback.
Whether the feedback comes from one-on-one conversations or through employee surveys, managers must be skilled at soliciting, interpreting, and taking action on feedback in order to achieve success. To help our managers succeed, HR needs to help them master feedback. This starts with coaching them on a few important mindsets.
Mindset #1: Perception is reality
Sure, we’ve all heard this before, but it’s crucial to keep in mind when it comes to hearing employee feedback. As a manager, you can follow all the training you’ve received about how to be a good communicator and still get critical feedback. When an employee suggests that you aren’t communicating well, it’s tempting to dismiss or argue with this feedback because it conflicts with your best efforts and intentions. Try to avoid that impulse. Whether you agree with the feedback is irrelevant because the employee’s experience is their reality.
When you step back for a moment and consider the feedback, the employee is telling you that, based on what they need or expect from a manager, something is missing. This is their truth. It’s their reality. As a manager, you should want to know so you can identify the gaps and close them.
Mindset #2: Listening is (more than) half the battle
Consider the last time you had a bad customer experience and decided to contact customer service about it. What did you hope to achieve?
In my experience, the first thing I wanted was to ensure they knew that something had gone wrong. If I had suffered harm or loss, I expected them to make it right. But if I was just treated poorly (perhaps when visiting a retail store), I mainly hoped to prevent it from happening to someone else in the future.
Essentially, I wanted to be heard and to know that someone cared about my experience. This is true in most cases when we offer feedback. Our desire is to be heard and our motivation is to help. When employees are brave enough to offer some critical feedback, managers need to ensure that they feel heard and that their feedback matters.
Mindset #3: It’s not (really) about you
When employees provide feedback that’s critical, it’s hard not to take it personally as a manager. A common employee survey question is “My manager cares about me as a person.” When the people you manage score you low on this item, it can hurt. Worse, it can feel personal, especially if you actually do care about them.
One of the keys to processing employee feedback as a manager is to realize that it’s never really about you as the manager. Yes, it feels that way. What the feedback reveals is that the employee isn’t feeling cared about in the way they hoped or expected. It’s less a criticism of the manager than it is a disclosure of needs. Feedback reveals where the employee’s experience is falling short and where they need something more.
This is an opportunity for the manager to take action. Once you know and understand employee needs more clearly, it’s easier to address them. The key is not to miss this opportunity by reacting defensively.
Mindset #4: Ask for the solution
Often, as managers, we assume that we need to figure out how to act on employee feedback alone. We feel like it’s on us to solve all of the issues or problems raised—to have all the answers. This is a mistake.
When an employee offers feedback, they want things to get better. And they usually have an idea on how they’d like to see that happen. Popular author and researcher, Brené Brown, offers a wonderful tool to help managers uncover the solutions employees have in mind. The tool is a simple question: “What would better look like?”
To use our earlier example where the employee may not feel as cared about as they would like, you could ask the question, “What would it look like if I was really making you feel like I cared about you?” This question can be applied to virtually any issue. Just ask and then listen intently to what the employee says next.
To sum this all up, the key to helping managers use employee feedback more effectively is to equip them with the mindsets around the feedback itself. It’s impossible to use feedback if we can’t hear it or understand it because we’re defensive or hurt. When managers can more openly embrace feedback with the right mindsets, they will be able to take action quickly to make the employee’s experience more engaging each day.
Helping your managers improve their emotional intelligence can be the key to ensuring a great employee experience. See how it can be done in our eBook, The Link Between Emotional Intelligence and Employee Experience.
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About Jason Lauritsen
Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker, author, and consultant. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, and author of his new book, Unlocking High Performance, to be published by Kogan Page in October 2018.